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November 8 2019

Isaiah Washington on Freedom of Thought, the Cancel Culture, and Criminal Justice Reform

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Onwuka:
I'm Patrice Onwuka, senior policy analyst with the Independent Women's Forum, and I'm filling in for Beverly Halbert. Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast from Independent Women's Forum where we talk with women, and sometimes men, about relevant policy issues that impact you and the people you care most about. We deliver facts and correct misperceptions about our society and public policy. We make sure you have the information needed to come to your own conclusion, because let's face it, you're in control. I think, you think, she thinks.

Onwuka:
Today, our special guest is actor, producer, and activist, Isaiah Washington. You may know him from Spike Lee classics like Get On The Bus and Crooklyn or the TV show, The 100, but Washington is best known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke on the ABC medical drama television series, Grey's Anatomy. Washington is also passionate about people thinking for themselves, and fighting back against the cancel culture. He joined the #WalkAway movement from the Democratic party and is a supporter of President Donald Trump, even attending a White House celebration this year of bipartisan criminal justice. So Isaiah, welcome to our show.

Washington:
Thank you. Thank you Patrice for having me. We're in the final quarter and almost heading into 2020, how about that?

Onwuka:
How about that, indeed. I think talking about 2020, one of those issues that's going to be a big one is just, in general, the role that Hollywood plays on culture and in trying to get people elected and it's a treat to speak with someone who lives and works in Hollywood about the culture there. I'd love for you to share about your journey in the entertainment world with our listeners.

I. Washington:
I think that's a good question. Thank you for giving me... First of all, thank you Patrice for having me, again and thank you to Victoria who put this all together and I'll save her last name just in case she does get a [inaudible 00:02:17]. Thank you IWF for giving me this platform. I will start with this. My activism has basically been a part of me since I was studying at Howard University back in the late 80's. I had been working with a young artists in outside of my theater program at Howard to try and get extra credit and actually extra money at the sanctuary theater in Washington D.C. But, in doing so, this particular man, Clayton Lebouef, was a avid supporter of Randall Robinson's TransAfrica at the time, who was one of the stalwarts for one of the major influences to really get the world and the Nation on the path of seeking freedom for Nelson Mandela, while he was president, probably violent and ending apartheid.

I. Washington:
So unbeknownst to me, I had my indoctrination had come only out of working as an actor because I did a play called Tie the Part, which is the reverse of a part tie, and I played the South African. My interest in being a liberator and a protector really started as a child watching my mom deal with various forms of abuse from my biological father. She was married to him and left him, then consequently after skew the stepfathers after that. I've always had this thing, if my wife calls it a hero complex, I think it's a little bit more elegant than that. So I choose to consider myself a protector and a liberator. And in that, whenever I've seen injustice, particularly from what perceived or I perceive as something from before, so an individual that is what we now call so freely and frequently bullies.

I. Washington:
I've never really had a lot of respect for that behavior. Whether that bullying came from an individual or there came from a group or mindset or organization or even another nation, for that matter. If it looked like that needed to be taken on and to be addressed, then I was your guy. So my activism always started there. Also, while being at Howard University, I found out how black I was and how black I wasn't. What I mean by that colorism, unfortunately was rampant in 1987 on that campus. I was disappointed at that because I this time, and I already been married and divorced. I was 23, already traveled the world, already been in the military for four years. So my level of maturity just wasn't at the same level as some of the student body while I was there. So I saw a lot of things, again, that made me feel like I need to engage. I suffered a number of negative things based on my lips, my coarseness, my hair, my nose, and my color of my skin.

I. Washington:
I said to me that, well, okay, if this is an issue amongst my own people, then that means I need to engage in a different way. I decided at that point to not go into theater management, but to become an actor, a serious actor, and then turn my image into something that I knew that within 10 years would be embraced by not only the country but the world. That they will fall in love with my image based on the work and the choice that I choose to engage. Whether I'm playing "a good guy or bad guy". I've always used my work as my activism, I've always used my work to challenge those who may have a particular opinion about a particular individual. If you look at Romeo Must Die, everyone fell in love with my character because he thought it was a great guy. He was the lead character's, Delroy Lindo character's best friend, but basically I was playing Jago.

I. Washington:
A lot of the things that kept me working in this business early like myself and Don Cheadle is that we were considered street savvy enough but yet intelligent enough to write our own parts. Most of the including Clockers and Crooklyn where I was unshaven and Crooklyn and I said to myself, I'm not going to shave again until I find another part that is worthy of my clean face, so to speak. That came about with Dr. Burke. So if you look at my first major movie at Crooklyn, and you fast forward to Dr. Burke, you'll see my dimple.

I. Washington:
Mostly everything in between was my activism of saying no, no. What does my skin color matter? [inaudible 00:07:04] my broad nose. My nappy head or beard has to do with my intellect. You will feel a lot of my characters, I have different kinds of colored hair. People thought for years in Hollywood that I was from Cameroon and cutting, bring me into a room and be like, I didn't have a British accent. Then all of a sudden, Oh, he's not a real African. So I didn't get the part. I've had people say that to me, "Well you're just the American? You're black". I'll say, "yeah". Oh, well we saw you on Get on the Bus and we thought you were from London pretending to be Black American. I've had them actually say that to me, to my face.

Onwuka:
Well I think it speaks to how great an actor that you are that you're not defined by just your features or the way you look, but you're defined by the quality of your work and you made that decision for yourself, which I think is speaks to that independent thinking. I want to relate that to this kind of walk away movement. Why did you join the walkaway movement?Please explain to our listeners what is #walkaway.

I. Washington:
Again, that's a good question. Thank you for asking it. Again, whenever I'm confronted with a wall and not the wall that the president is building but a feeling of what I feel is a contemporary ignorance or resistance, I will walk away. I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to have been with me when I made my first trip in West African Nation, Sierra Leone. Jackie Coker, who was a wonderful friend and supporter of me bridging, trying to bridge the gap between Africans and African Americans. I did a documentary on it called Bound: Africans vs African Americans cause I'm always been interested in it and why Africans? There's this fissure and this disdain between indigenous Africans in America and African Americans in America.

I. Washington:
When I got hit by the press after Fox News, obvious reasons, Terry picked one of my tweets that implied that I was trying to make one president look bad and another president look good. Which actually I was in context, I was actually speaking out of the irony, but wow. When I was having this conversation with the Senator Obama before he became the president, because he's Kenyan, I thought we had an understanding of what the mission that I thought he sent me on. Which I achieved by getting my dual citizenship, building the school and all these great things that we were going to have a focus on Africa at some point within his eight years, 10 years, and we never really did. In fact, he actually had helped support getting Gaddafi removed. Okay?

Onwuka:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

I. Washington:
I have always been a Pan-African. When I saw the walkaway hashtags and I talked to Jackie Coker, I was upset at the press. So I decided I'm going to wage war, gives liberal media, mainstream media, I'm going to war. I'm walking away from mainstream media. I'm done. I'll walk away from all the bad things. The bullies that bullied me. I'm going to walk away.

I. Washington:
So everything that I was saying, bringing up my work and everything that I was being attacked vociferously by the left. I remember spending eight, 12 hours a day on Twitter just countering those attacks by reminding people that was coming to hate me on my Twitter, letting them know who I am. I start to feel like I was on trial and I won my case because I was prepared for another attack but not at this level and my friend wasn't prepared because I was actually at the White House doing something good because the first step back I could not understand that. I could not believe that here again, the media is going to try to take my head off out of context for another situation 12 years ago.

I. Washington:
Now because I'm actually in the White House representing African-American men and helping free people from our president who everybody say would never do anything good, let alone the Republican party doing anything good for the black community. I just couldn't reconcile that. So I didn't get really angry. I got decisively and I got strategic and decided, okay, if you want me to be a supporter of a 45, I will be probably one of the most impactful supporters of this president in the history of presidencies. That's what I decided. I decided to start with this is the narrative that you want, you're going to get it.

Onwuka:
Well, what a narrative you've written Isaiah. I think this is a great time to talk about criminal justice reform because we are coming up on the one year anniversary that President Trump signed it into law. This is a bipartisan bill. Bipartisan is a dirty word in Washington today, but it actually got done and thanks to President Trump using his political capital to get conservatives onboard with this bill. That's how it got tasked. So you tell me, what was it like sitting at the White House the day earlier this year? I believe you were at a White House event celebrating the passage of this bill. Why is it so important for all of America but also black Americans in particular?

I. Washington:
That's another good question. Again, it goes back to my instincts of being a protector and a liberator. When Brandon Straka reached out to me, because apparently, obviously I've been using his hashtag, walk away, without knowing who he was or really have his permission. So that's how he and I came together and he obviously had been watching me and been watching it from the sidelines of what was happening to me in the press. So we joined forces. Obviously a supportive brand to Straka and he's allowed me to use this hashtag, walk away, legitimately. Inside of that, we talked about again being a protector and liberating people out of ignorance of people find them for incarceration. Yes, I mean people I think lose a lot of the focus on odds being so divi dealing with what we call this Trump derangement syndrome.

I. Washington:
My focus has been pretty much like Frederick Douglass and focus by creating the LRA, the Legacy of Republican Alliance, which is my new political action committees.

I. Washington:
That we have to refocus and really focused on what we want. Do we want to abolish ignorance as we know it, seriously? And if we do, what does that look like? What would it entail? Do we really want to abolish corruption or let's say poverty, which comes out of corruption once and for all for the next 100 years? If we do, what does that entail and what does that look like? Do we want to abolish all forms of slavery? Whatever they may be, spiritual, intellectual, physically. Do we want to abolish slavery as we know it? What does that look like? What will that entail? Do we have all the fundamental principles coming out of this party that was created in 1854 that was born out of the racism of President Pierce. At the time dealing with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and what they keep the abolish fabulousness at bay and keep flavor in place.

I. Washington:
This man named Frederick Douglas was at the forefront of that in 1854 who I really feel a kinship with and always has. I would say that I've been a Frederick Douglas Republican that never had a home. The first time I ever voted in my life outside of the military, that I felt compelled to vote and it was purely on emotion. I voted it twice in my life for 56 years as an adult. I've only voted twice at the presidential election and I wasted both of them on president Obama.

Onwuka:
Hmm.

I. Washington:
I will never make that mistake again as long as I live to vote on a motion and not policy.

I. Washington:
That is what I hope will resonate with people that look like me and people that don't look like me. It's that very difficult to get the research done if you don't do the research yourself. You can't just click on Google and Wikipedia and call that research. That's not enough. I'm really shocked and appalled at how many people that have access to the whitehousethatcongress.gov but don't use it. They refused to look at the accomplishments of this 45th president of the United States, absolutely refuse. You can't have a coherent conversation with me if you are choosing your experiential perspective. You're making this experiential perspective say that if I don't know that it exists, if I don't know about it, then it doesn't exist. Willfully going that because if I don't do the research, I don't listen to the truth, then it doesn't exist. You can't change my mind. That is not only dangerous, that is only rips at the very fabric of our nation called Republican. All of the flaws and this experiment called the United States, we're not perfect.

I. Washington:
I know there's a lot of bad issues and flaws that have happened even to me, but we have always overcome through our humanity. I believe that as an artist, I will continue to fight for that and believe that criminal justice reform starts with us, our humanity. It was my humanity that brought me to the White House in spite of what I was told about President Trump. It didn't matter. Being a protector and a liberator supersede any and every single one I think I know about a human being. Why? Because we cannot get out of this life alive. So if I did not go to the White House to support him, then something would have been wrong with me as a human being.

Onwuka:
Wow. You know that that reminds me something you just said both about criminal justice reform, but the humanity of how we speak with one another and how we address issues touches on this movement, this cancel culture movement, where if I don't agree with you, I'm not going to listen to you. I don't care what you have to say and I'm just going to do whatever is at my use. Whatever is at my disposal to destroy your reputation, to ensure that no one else is impacted by what you have to say. It's just a way to silence people and I think unfortunately it's a tool used by those on the left to silence those on the right. We've talked before and you've said that you're probably the first victim of the cancel culture. Well explain that. Do you think we've reached a point where maybe we will see the cancellation of the cancel culture?

I. Washington:
I think you nailed it head on the nail or how do you say that term? I'm sorry. You just hit the ...

Onwuka:
nail on the head?

I. Washington:
Yeah, the nail on the head or you hit something like that. You hit the nail on the head. Absolutely. I really believe in kind that a council culture is going to council itself as I see now dealing with most of them in toying with them. I like to figure my food on Twitter when I deal with those that are trying to counsel me and realize that you counseled me 12 years ago. So if I was canceled 12 years ago by something that was taken out of context by a wrong narrative 12 years ago. I've still been working successfully then that being in any argument or any theory, I'm not canceled. How impactful is it really? Does it cause pain? Is it embarrassing to the individual? Of course, it is. It's all those things. But ultimately it's not canceling me out, it's not killing me off.

I. Washington:
I questioned those who rely on it as a tool and it's become a political tool for only specific agendas. Those that are using this cancel culture are not interested in humanity or what the people really think. They're only interested in the [inaudible 00:19:57]. They're interested in powering themselves or justifying why they are in the particular seat that they're in. Therefore, the squad. I look at these young women that have used their million... I don't know how they got over a million followers on Twitter, whether they bought them, but none of them neither here nor there, but that using the same cancel culture and our politics. What is happening is they're ending up canceling themselves out. Matter of fact the squad, is not as strong as the squad. The squad is now the buy to the left. It was one, then one disappeared and it was three to one [inaudible 00:20:40] the loss and now there's just two that are getting the headlines that offer them once control. You see how that works.

I. Washington:
So again, I'll give you an example of how careful culture when it's not authentic, when it's not based in anything that is for all of the people, we the people and it's only based for that one person, that one entity did to get this agenda out. It falls apart. It doesn't hold up. Also, I suspect that cancel culture, particularly after the reelection of 45, cancel culture will be done. It will be over.

I. Washington:
[crosstalk 00:21:18]

I. Washington:
It will be just a trend that went on maybe 10 years too long.

Onwuka:
Well, I'm looking for...

I. Washington:
I'm not canceled. I'm sitting here talking to you.

Onwuka:
Well, I...

I. Washington:
I have several movies coming up so you know, still working and choosing to do things that I want to do. It's even more exciting that I can't talk about that I've just closed two deals on that. Well, I'm sure the headline news will let you know about it. Of course, the left will turn it around and twist it and make all the good news about what's happening with me in the independent industry. Negative. They'll probably blame it on Trump and say that it was Trump made a phone call and that's life happening with something. I don't know. They'll create some negative, they'll create some narrative that's not true.

Onwuka:
Well that actually answers one of my questions about the backlash from Hollywood, but you are demonstrating that you can be independent, you can be libertarian, you can be conservative or at least on different policies embrace an opposing viewpoint and still be successful in the entertainment business. Isaiah, you have given us a tremendous amount of food for thought. You've given us talking points when talking about what has the president done to help the black community. You've given us talking points about where PC culture is and what the future holds for it. And you've talked to us about personally why you've taken your personal experience as a liberator, as a protector, and use that in both acting but also in politics today. You gave us a tease earlier about some of the projects that you have in the works, but is there one or two things? What is the Isaiah Washington legacy going to be? That's our last question for you today.

I. Washington:
As a protector and a liberator, at all costs by any means necessary.

Onwuka:
Very good. Well, you're already accomplishing that. So we are so thankful for you to join us today. And you know what, sir, I hope you would consider coming back to the She Thinks podcast to share some other things that you may have coming up in the future.

I. Washington:
Hey, I'm open to it. I'm willing and I feel that I've been blessed to the grace of God immeasurably throughout my life. Like I said, none of us can get out of this life alive, but no day is promised. No, tomorrow is promised to any of us, so I just have to rely on the beauty and the support and the love that I do have. I'll leave you with this. Someone once told me years ago that no matter what you do in life, no matter where you are in the world, no matter what you say, no matter how much you give, no matter how much you are patient and you're the can be the best human being or not, only 15% of all the people you have come in contact with for your entire life is going to hit your guts. It's going to be absolutely nothing you could say or do to change their mind. 15% guaranteed. That's the number.

I. Washington:
I was overwhelmed with that because then my ego, I thought, if I don't have 100% of the people liking what I am and liking what I do is supporting me, then I'm not doing a good job. Then that person said that's ridiculous. You have 85% that loves you no matter what you say or do. Why not focused on that 85%? That's what I've chosen to do in my life. So when I pushed back or negativity or cancel stuff, I go, Oh, they're part of that 15%. There's nothing I can say to things in their mind, so why waste my time on arguing and battling with that 15%? I have so much work to do with so much love and support from the 85%.

Onwuka:
Wow. Very good. Well, at the Independent Women's Forum, we are trying to win hearts and minds honestly and by exposing people to different ideas. So thank you Isaiah for joining us today and we hope you as listeners take something away from today's conversation. There is so much. Now, if you enjoy today's podcast of She Thinks or like the podcast in general, we'd love if you could take a moment to leave us a rating or review on iTunes. This really helps us ensure our message reaches as many Americans as possible. Please share this episode and let your friends know how they can find more She Thinks episodes on their favorite podcast app. From all of us here at the Independent Women's Forum, thank you for listening.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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